If you have time for only one day trip while you’re in Québec City, then Île d’Orleans should be your choice. Located roughly 17 km’s from Old Québec, Île d’Orléans was one of the first settlements for New France in the sixteenth century. Originally named Minigo by the Iroquois natives, it was later named Bacchus Isle by explorer Jacques Cartier, and then renamed by Cartier again a year later to Île d’Orleans – in honour of the Duke of Orleans (son of King François I).
Explore Île d’Orléans
Île d’Orléans may be small, but it played a role in Québec’s history and has more scandals and stories to share than most places in Canada. Wars between Hurons and Iroquois,
Île d’Orléans is divided into six townships, Saint-Pierre (circa 1679), Saint-Jean (circa 1679), Saint-Famille (circa 1661), and Saint-Laurent (originally Saint-Paul, circa 1679), Saint-François (circa 1679), and Saint-Pétronille (circa 1870).
Whether alone or through a private tour, the only way to fully explore Île d’Orléans is by car. The island is home to historic homes and churches, vineyards, sugar shacks, some of the best strawberries you’ll ever eat, delicious bakeries, and drop-dead-gorgeous scenery. In other words, a day on the island is never misspent!
Begin in Saint-Petronille
Crossing the bridge onto Île d’Orléans you’ll find yourself at the tail-end of Saint-Pierre. At the first set of lights, turn right and begin your journey around Île d’Orléans. Your first stop? Vignobles Saint-Pétronille!
Owned and operated Nathalie Lane and Louis Denault for the last 19 years, Vignobles Saint-Pétronille wines are crisp and delicious. The boutique (wine shop) offers an amazing view of the Saint Lawerence River and Montmorency Falls. Whether you are a wine connoisseur or not, stop at Vignobles Saint-Pétronille to enjoy the view, and try out Panache Mobile. Yummy eats!!
After the winery, continue down the tree-lined road to Chocolaterie de Île d’Orléans, park your car, and get ready for quite possibly the best chocolate-dipped cone you will ever eat – Dairy Queen will feel like you’re slumming. The dark chocolate is a party in your mouth. Really. Although they do have milk chocolate as well. The café above the Chocolaterie also serves light lunches. And of course, there is the Chocolaterie; which is really the reason why you stopped in the first place.
From the Chocolaterie take some time to walk down by the water and explore this small township before continuing down the road towards Saint-Laurent (once Saint-Paul).
The drive through Saint-Pétronille and Saint-Laurent is probably one of the more scenic stretches on Île d’Orleans, and cars tend to slow down quite a bit to take it all in. While that can be fun for visitors, it can get a little annoying for residents, so the best idea is to pull over, get out, and explore the town on foot. This way the residents are happy, and you get a better view of the colonial homes (complete with sloping tin roofs), the historic parish church, and possibly do a little shopping before getting back into your car and continuing down the road and towards the township of Saint-Jean.
Located just before the town of Saint-Laurent, Parc Maritime de Saint-Laurent is a great little side stop. The museum is located along the shore and guides visitors through this 1960’s shipyard when it was abuzz with activity. While there are guided tours available, you can also opt for a self-guide tour with a digital guide if you’re short on time.
Le Moulin de Saint-Laurent is located on the edge of the townships of Saint-Laurent and Saint-Jean is fine dining at its best on Île d’Orleans. It’s also has a picturesque setting and cozy rooms if you’re looking for a place to stay on the island.
Just across the township line of Saint-Jean is a fabulous place called La Confiturerie des sorciers Tigidou. A farmhouse slash confiturerie, owners Catherine and Vincent create organic delights like jams and syrups. Delish!
Of course a day trip to Île d’Orléans is not complete without stepping back in time and learning more about the history of New France and the island. One of the best places for this is Manoir Mauvide -Genest. Erected as a square house in 1734 by Jean Mauvide a surgeon in the King’s army, Manoir Mauvide-Genest remains almost exactly as it was after its renovation in 1752.
On the edge of Saint-Jean township is quite possibly the BEST croissants in Québec. Yeah, it’s a sweeping generalisation and some may disagree, but I will drive all the way to La Boulange for croissants every time I have access to a car. La Boulange also sells bread, pastries, sandwiches, and pizza. All of which are delicious.
A small township on the eastern tip of the island, Saint-François is a quiet and beautiful drive. If you have time, stop by the church, pop into a shop, or send a postcard before carrying on to Saint-Famille.
One of the larger townships on Île d’Orléans, Saint-Famille is home to sugar shacks, vineyards, orchards, and farms. The drive from Saint-François is picturesque and if you see a small fruit and vegetable stand on the right side of the road, along with a bend, with a farm across the street, stop and buy a snack. The owner is truly delightful.
Les Fromages de Île d’Orleans is a great little stop next to Maison Drouin (currently under renovation). This little shop sells gourmet food items like patê, jellies, dried meats, and cheese – including fresh cheese curds. It’s also a little slice of island history. Food + history = win!
A little further down the road, you’ll find pick-your-own berry farms, as well as Vignoble du Mitan. The town of Saint-Famille is utterly charming and once you’ve had a chance to walk around and admire the architecture (and do a little shopping), your next stop should be the one and only microbrewery on Île d’Orléans, Microbrasserie de Île d’Orléans. A delightful spot with a view of the Saint Lawrence River, each beer is named after a local and, therefore, has its own history. A truly unique way of learning about Saint-Famille. Note: the microbrewery is only open on weekends in winter, their beer can also be found in stores throughout Québec.
The first township across the bridge from the mainland, Saint-Pierre features vineyards (vignobles), a cider house, sugar shack (maple syrup), theatre, pubs, and Buffet Maison (a gourmet restaurant almost everyone would love).
If you enjoy Icewine chances are you’ll enjoy Ice Cider. Made from apples rather than grapes Ice Cider is only found in Québec. Keep in mind, the rules that apply to Icewine also apply to Ice Cider, the number one rule being: Never eat something sweeter than the wine. Pair with dark chocolate, sharp blue cheese, pears etc. At Domaine Steinbach in Saint-Pierre they not only produce and sell Ice Cider, but strong, apértif, and digestive ciders as well. In summer (May to August) they also have an outdoor café with a gourmet menu.
A day trip to Île d’Orléans is not complete without a stop at Cabane a Sucre L’En-Talleur, a traditional sugar shack. Québec produces over 80% of the world’s maple syrup and is possibly one of the best souvenirs to take home from your trip.